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Doosan beats Nexen, LG stays hot as all-Seoul playoffs loom
By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Aug. 8 (Yonhap) -- In one of the most anticipated series in the second half of the 2013 Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) season, the Doosan Bears swept the Nexen Heroes in their two-game set to overtake third place.

   At their home Jamsil Stadium in Seoul, the Bears squeezed past the Heroes 5-4 on Tuesday and then beat them 11-7 on Wednesday to rise to third in the standings, 1.5 games ahead of the Heroes.

   The two wins improved the Bears' post-All-Star break record to 9-5, the second-best mark in the KBO.

   On July 1, the Bears were sitting at 33-31-2 in sixth place, and three games out of the fourth and the final playoff spot. They have gone 16-7 since then, with three teams previously above them -- the Heroes, the Lotte Giants and the Kia Tigers -- going in the opposite direction.

  

Despite the losses, the Heroes remain in position to make the first postseason in franchise history. And with another Seoul team, the LG Twins, staying hot in second place by beating the NC Dinos twice this week, the KBO could have all three Seoul teams in the playoffs for the first time in its history.

   The Heroes replaced the cash-strapped Hyundai Unicorns and settled at Seoul's Mokdong Stadium in the 2008 season. Before that, the Bears and the Twins had been the only two Seoul clubs, sharing Jamsil as their home.

   The last time Doosan and LG both reached the postseason was in 2000. The Bears prevailed 4-2 in the best-of-seven showdown in the first round, then dubbed the "Dugout Series."

   Sitting two games behind the Samsung Lions and three games up on the Bears, the Twins are seeking their first playoff appearance in 11 years. They have teased their loyal Seoul fans in a few seasons during their drought, getting off to a hot start only to fade away by June or July.

   The Twins' patented collapse this season never came, however, as they haven't fallen below third place since June 29. At 52-35-0, with the league's best ERA and second-best batting average, the Twins have the look of a legitimate contender in 2013.

   The Heroes ended the first half in 2012 in third place, but their second-half swoon dropped them to sixth place by the season's end. In 2013, they also entered the All-Star break in third place. Their 6-7 record since the break has kept them 1.5 games ahead of Lotte in fourth place, but the Heroes' pitching woes have led to whispers that the team is in for another collapse.

   If history can be any indication though, the Heroes could eventually find themselves in the playoffs.

   On July 7, the Heroes became the first KBO team to reach 40 wins this season. In the league's 31-year history, teams that got to the 40-win mark first have never missed the postseason.

   The Bears, who went from having the KBO's best team ERA in mid-April to having the worst by late-May, still have issues with their pitching, and their firewagon offense has kept them in contention.

   The two wins over the Heroes highlighted both the Bears' pitching problems and their potent offense.

   On Tuesday, Doosan took a 5-1 lead into the ninth inning, and sent right-hander Hong Sang-sam to the mound to close out the deal. He promptly issued two walks while retiring just one batter, before handing things over to Jung Jae-hoon.

   Jung also gave up two walks and allowed both of Hong's runners to score. He conceded a third run on his own before retiring Kim Min-sung with a tying run on second.

   After the nail-biting win, manager Kim Jin-wook came down hard on his players for "relaxing" with a lead.

   "Hong Sang-sam gave up a couple of walks to make life difficult, but it wasn't just his problem," Kim said. "I think the entire team must have been thinking we had this one in the bag. This was a crucial game and we were fortunate to have won it."

   On Wednesday, starter Derek Hankins was tagged for five earned runs in three innings, and Kim Sun-woo, the team's third pitcher of the game, gave up two more earned runs in 1 2/3 innings.

   Kim blew a 7-5 lead for the Bears in the top fifth, but his teammates immediately scored a couple of runs in the bottom fifth for a 9-7 lead, giving the right-hander an unlikely win.

   As their pitchers tried to hold their ground, the Bears' hitters feasted on Nexen pitching to the tune of 15 hits. Every starter recorded at least a base hit to give the pitchers a four-run cushion heading into the ninth for the second straight day.

   The relief corps responded this time with four shutout innings to close out the victory.

   With the Twins in the clear, the Bears and the Heroes will have to fend off the Giants and the Tigers, currently in fifth and sixth but still within striking distance. The Giants are 1.5 games back of the Heroes and the Tigers are 5.5 games behind. The Giants beat the Tigers twice this week.

   The Heroes have eight games remaining against both teams. The Bears have seven left against the Giants and nine left against the Tigers.

   jeeho@yna.co.kr
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